Picture by Michael Eric Bérubé; Beltane on the Beach, Popham Beach, ME., May 2014
On my way to Popham Beach I pass over a section of Route 209 where the road seems very narrow with a high concrete wall on one side and I know I am getting close. I have been able to smell the salt air of the Ocean since I was outside of Bath but here it seems to take a spike as though I’ve been following the perfumed trail of a beautiful woman and now I am nearing the place where she waits for me. My window is down and I am listening to the seabirds calling as they hang in the air over the mud flats near Parker Hill creek and the sun shines, sometimes when it is not supposed to. The soon to be flowers along roadsides are green stalks ready to launch their firework display of seasonal color and the grasses are a dusky lime approaching green magnificence.
The cars are already lined up along the road, waiting for the time when the gates to Popham Beach will be opened and I see people in dark clothing, lots of zippers and black painted fingernails. I see others in brightly colored clothes and I see parents stretching after a long trip, bending, flexing and looking around for people they recognize. When they do see someone, they embrace and they smile. The children run around away from the road and the Park Ranger eyes people warily as they go about the business of accepting visitors. In the background like a silent hushing we can hear the waves rolling in, rolling in, rolling in. Rolling out and away and away.
There is chit-chat and coffee. There is the thunder of motorcycles getting closer along the main road and there are men wearing tough looking black leather vests and smiles so warm if you don’t know them, you should. There are tents going up and people chatting energetically. Long lost friends reunited, close knit circles opening for other circles until we are all there, together.
We mill about talking with one another about what has been going on lately or in the last year or in the last month since we have seen one another. We see each other’s children and remark on how much bigger they are even as they use parental buttocks as a shy station from which to hide. We compare lists of those we may have lost, talk about our health and our jobs.
There are people in the parking lot pouring out libations for the Motorcycles; there are women quicker to enter a red tent than they are coming out. There are men wearing the occasional sword or leaning on the occasional carved staff, standing in circles talking about adventures. There are children running and playing in larger loops than they could make by the roadside and there are parents whose nervousness seems to dissipate with each moment.
Over it all we hear the crashing of waves rolling in, rolling in, rolling in. Rolling out and away and away. There is an island of the moon only a sandbar away at low tide where the gulls sit in a mock jury of guttural cries as we pour onto the beach, racing around tidal pools, lodging maypoles in the sand…we welcome the spring in a great big circle and then we dance. Rhythmic drumbeats pound out percussive prescriptions until the sand itself dances with us. The wind whips ribbons the myriad colors of soon to be flowers and they snap in the air like schooner sails as people revolve in silly circles beneath a sun that was not supposed to shine so brightly or warmly.
In and down, out and around the ribbons wind around one another, marching down the poles in colorful overlapping patterns until the last person dancing gives over their end like letting go of a hand with a smile of longing and a huff of exhaustion. The wind whips a lock of dark hair over one eye and they reach a hand up to move it away, still smiling, still longing, the movement is tired and satisfied.
Back up the near the entrance there are tables full of food where hungry people gorge themselves on homemade delicacies and store bought chips. Fruit juices and water, lemonade and apple juice. There are fruit bowls and pretzels, watermelon and cantaloupe. People watch one another and talk, still smiling. The kids are still playing, the parents are even less worried. A circle forms and people tell their stories and poems and share their music. A wiry man with dark curly hair is clasping his hands and his smile is bigger than he is.
The energy is winding down now. There are windburned faces under sunburned faces. The motorcycles are starting up and their deep, throaty roar begins to recede into the difference. The parking lot is emptying and some of us will not see one another until next year. The children are starting to run out of steam and the parents are dragging coolers back to cars. We are saying “see you later!” as the gulls inspect full trashcans for leftover lunch.
Over it all we hear the waves rolling in, rolling in, rolling in. Rolling out and away and away. the sound grows more silent yet no more less crisp as we recede into the distance and once again pass through the narrow concrete corridor and back into a world of workdays and incessant distraction, with only the slightest whiff of perfume in my nose but I will keep finding beach sand for weeks.
Beltane on the Beach (www.beltaneonthebeach.org) will be held on Sunday, May 3rd, 2015 at Popham Beach State Park in Phippsburg, Maine. Please join us there!
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